Middle High German

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Middle High German
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Middle High German (abbreviated MHG, , abbr. ) is the term for the form of German spoken in the High Middle Ages. It is conventionally dated between 1050 and 1350, developing from Old High German and into Early New High German. High German is defined as those varieties of German which were affected by the Second Sound Shift; the Middle Low German and Middle Dutch languages spoken to the North and North West, which did not participate in this sound change, are not part of MHG. While there is no standard MHG, the prestige of the Hohenstaufen court gave rise in the late 12th century to a supra-regional literary language () based on Swabian, an Alemannic dialect. This historical interpretation is complicated by the tendency of modern editions of MHG texts to use normalised spellings based on this variety (usually called "Classical MHG"), which make the written language appear more consistent than is actually the case in the manuscripts. Scholars are uncertain as to whether the literary language reflected a supra-regional spoken language of the courts.An important development in this period was the , the eastward expansion of German settlement beyond the line which marked the limit of Old High German. This process started in the 11th century, and all the East Central German dialects are a result of this expansion."Judeo-German", the precursor of the Yiddish language, sees attestation in the 12th–13th centuries, as a variety of Middle High German written in Hebrew characters.


File:Deutsche Ostsiedlung.png|thumb|German territorial expansion in the Middle High German period (adapted from #E95E1B|Germanic peoples before AD 700}}{{legend|#EE813C|, 8th–11th centuries}}{{legend|#F4A586|Expansion in the 12th century}}{{legend|#FABD42|Expansion in the 13th century}}{{legend|#FDD060|Expansion in the 14th century}}{{legend|#FDD060|Expansion in the 14th century}}(File:Deutsche Ostsiedlung.jpg|thumb|German territorial expansion before 1400 from F. W. Putzger)The Middle High German period is generally dated from 1050 to 1350.{{sfn|Keller|1978|p=236}}{{sfn|Lindgren|1980|p=580}}{{sfn|Waterman|1976|p=83}}{{sfn|Rautenberg|1985|p=1120}} An older view puts the boundary with (Early) New High German around 1500.{{sfn|Rautenberg|1985|p=1120}} {{sfn|Roelcke|1998|pp=804-811|ps=: tabulates the various periodisations.}}There are several phonological criteria which separate MHG from the preceding Old High German period:{{sfn|Roelcke|1998|p=812}}
  • the weakening of unstressed vowels to {{angle bracket|e}}: OHG ', MHG ' ("days"){{sfn|Waterman|1976|p=85}}
  • the full development of Umlaut and its use to mark a number of morphological categories{{sfn|Waterman|1976|p=85}}
  • the devoicing of final stops: OHG ' > MHG ' ("day"){{sfn|Keller|1978|p=276}}{{sfn|Brockhaus|1995|p=6}}
Culturally, the two periods are distinguished by the transition from a predominantly clerical written culture, in which the dominant language was Latin, to one centred on the courts of the great nobles, with German gradually expanding its range of use.{{sfn|Lindgren|1980|p=580}}{{sfn|Waterman|1976|pp=87f.}} The rise of the Hohenstaufen dynasty in Swabia makes the South West the dominant region in both political and cultural terms.{{sfn|Keller|1979|p=337}}Demographically, the MHG period is characterised by a massive rise in population,{{sfn|Keller|1979|pp=237|ps=: "the population appears to have increased about fivefold."}} terminated by the demographic catastrophe of the Black Death (1348).{{sfn|Keller|1979|pp=336}} Along with the rise in population comes a territorial expansion eastwards (), which saw German-speaking settlers colonise land previously under Slavic control.{{sfn|Keller|1979|pp=238-239}}{{sfn|Rautenberg|1985|p=1121}} Linguistically, the transition to Early New High German is marked by four vowel changes which together produce the phonemic system of modern German, though not all dialects participated equally in these changes:{{sfn|Waterman|1976|103}}
  • Diphthongisation of the long high vowels {{IPA|/iː yː uː/}} > {{IPA|/aɪ̯ ɔʏ̯ aʊ̯/}}: MHG ' > NHG ' ("skin")
  • Monophthongisation of the high centering diphthongs {{IPA|/iÉ™ yÉ™ uÉ™/}} > {{IPA|/iː yː uː/}}: MHG ' > NHG ' ("hat")
  • lengthening of stressed short vowels in open syllables: MHG ' {{IPA|/zaÉ¡É™n/}} > NHG ' {{IPA|/zaːɡən/}} ("say")
  • The loss of unstressed vowels in many circumstances: MHG ' > NHG ' ("lady")
The centres of culture in the ENHG period are no longer the courts but the towns.{{sfn|Eggers1985|p=1300|ps=: ""}}


(File:Middle High German dialects.jpg|thumb|250px|Middle High German dialect boundaries)The dialect map of Germany by the end of the Middle High German period was much the same as that at the start of the 20th century, though the boundary with Low German was further south than it now is:{{sfn|Schmidt|2013|p=278}}{{sfn|Keller|1978|p=257}}Central German (Mitteldeutsch){{sfn|Paul|2007|pp=8–9}} Upper German (Oberdeutsch){{sfn|Paul|2007|pp=6–7}} With the exception of Thuringian, the East Central German dialects are new dialects resulting from the and arise towards the end of the period.{{sfn|Schmidt|2013|p=278}}{{sfn|Paul|2007|p=9}}

Writing system

Middle High German texts are written in the Latin alphabet. There was no standardised spelling, but modern editions generally standardise according to a set of conventions established by Karl Lachmann in the 19th century.{{sfn|Paul|2007|pp=23ff}} There are several important features in this standardised orthography which are not characteristics of the original manuscripts:
  • the marking of vowel length is almost entirely absent from MHG manuscripts.{{sfn|Paul|2007|p=27}}
  • the marking of umlauted vowels is often absent or inconsistent in the manuscripts.{{sfn|Paul|2007|p=72–73}}
  • a curly-tailed z ({{angle bracket|È¥}} or {{angle bracket|Ê’}}) is used in modern handbooks and grammars to indicate the {{IPA|/s/}} or {{IPA|/s/}}-like sound which arose from Germanic {{IPA|/t/}} in the High German consonant shift. This character has no counterpart in the original manuscripts, which typically use {{angle bracket|s}} or {{angle bracket|z}} to indicate this sound.{{sfn|Paul|2007|p=28}}
  • the original texts often use {{angle bracket|i}} and {{angle bracket|uu}} for the semi-vowels {{IPA|/j/}} and {{IPA|/w/}}.{{sfn|Paul|2007|p=142–144}}
A particular problem is that many manuscripts are of much later date than the works they contain; as a result, they bear the signs of later scribes having modified the spellings, with greater or lesser consistency, in accord with conventions of their time.{{sfn|Paul|2007|p=25}} In addition, there is considerable regional variation in the spellings that appear in the original texts, which modern editions largely conceal.{{sfn|Paul|2007|p=17}}


The standardised orthography of MHG editions uses the following vowel spellings:{{sfn|Paul|2007|p=27}}
  • Short vowels: {{angle bracket|a e i o u}} and the umlauted vowels {{angle bracket|ä ö ü}}
  • Long vowels: {{angle bracket|â ê î ô û}} and the umlauted vowels {{angle bracket|æ Å“ iu}}
  • Diphthongs: {{angle bracket|ei ou ie uo}}; and the umlauted diphthongs {{angle bracket|öu eu oi üe}}
Grammars (as opposed to textual editions) often distinguish between {{angle bracket|ë}} and {{angle bracket|e}}, the former indicating the mid-open {{IPA|/ɛ/}} which derived from Germanic {{IPA|/e/}}, the latter (often with a dot beneath it) indicating the mid-close {{IPA|/e/}} which results from primary umlaut of short {{IPA|/a/}}. No such orthographic distinction is made in MHG manuscripts.{{sfn|Paul|2007|p=27}}


The standardised orthography of MHG editions uses the following consonant spellings:{{sfn|Paul|2007|p=28}}


The charts show the vowel and consonant systems of classical MHG. The spellings indicated are the standard spellings used in modern editions – there is much more variation in the manuscripts.


Short and Long Vowels{| border"2" cellpadding"5" style"margin: 1em 1em 1em 0; border-collapse: collapse; text-align: center; background: #f9f9f9; border: 1px #aaa solid;"

 ! colspan="4" | front! rowspan="2" colspan="2" | central! rowspan="2" colspan="2" | back! colspan="2" | unrounded! colspan="2" | rounded! short! long! short! long! short! long! short! long! closei}}iː}}y}} {{angle bracket|ü}}yː}} {{angle bracket|iu}}  u}}uː}}! close-mide}}|        ! midÉ›}}ɛː}}ø}} {{angle bracket|ö}}øː}} {{angle bracket|Å“}}  o}}oː}}! open-midæ}} {{angle bracket|ä}}æː}} {{angle bracket|æ}}      ! open  a}}aː}}  Notes:
  1. Not all dialects distinguish the three unrounded mid front vowels.
  2. It is probable that the short high and mid vowels are lower than their long equivalents, as in Modern German, but this is impossible to establish from the written sources.
  3. The {{angle bracket|e}} found in unstressed syllables may indicate {{IPA|[É›]}} or schwa {{IPA|[É™]}}.


MHG diphthongs are indicated by the spellings: {{angle bracket|ei}}, {{angle bracket|ie}}, {{angle bracket|ou}}, {{angle bracket|öu}} and {{angle bracket|eu}}, {{angle bracket|üe}}, {{angle bracket|uo}}, having the approximate values of {{IPA|/ei/}}, {{IPA|/iə/}}, {{IPA|/ou/}}, {{IPA|/øy/}}, {{IPA|/eu/}}, {{IPA|/yə/}}, and {{IPA|/uə/}}, respectively.

Consonants{| border"2" cellpadding"5" style"margin: 1em 1em 1em 0; border-collapse: collapse; text-align: center; background: #f9f9f9; border: 1px #aaa solid;"|  

! Bilabial! Labiodental! Alveolar! Postalveolar! Palatal! Velar! Glottal! Plosivep}}  {{IPA|b}}|  t}}  {{IPA|d}}|  |  k}} {{angle bracketÉ¡}}|  ! AffricatespÍ¡f}}|  tÍ¡s}} {{angle bracket|z}}|  |  |  |  ! Nasalm}}|  n}}|  |  Å‹}} {{angle bracket|ng}}|  ! Fricative|  f v}} {{angle bracket|f, v}}s}}  {{IPAÈ¥}} {{angle bracket|s}}ʃ}} {{angle bracket|sch}}|  x}} {{angle bracket|ch, h}}h}}! Approximantw}}|  |  |  j}}|  |  ! Liquid|  |  r}}  {{IPA|l}}|  |  |  |  
  1. Precise information about the articulation of consonants is impossible to establish, and will have varied between dialects.
  2. In the plosive and fricative series, where there are two consonants in a cell, the first is fortis the second lenis. The voicing of lenis consonants varied between dialects.
  3. MHG has long consonants, and the following double consonant spellings indicate not vowel length as in Modern German orthography, but rather genuine double consonants: pp, bb, tt, dd, ck (for {{IPA|/kk/}}), gg, ff, ss, zz, mm, nn, ll, rr.
  4. It is reasonable to assume that {{IPA|/x/}} had an allophone {{IPA|[χ]}} after back vowels, as in Modern German.



Middle High German pronouns of the first person refer to the speaker; those of the second person refer to an addressed person; and those of the third person refer to person or thing of which one speaks.The pronouns of the third person may be used to replace nominal phrases. These have the same gender, number and case as the original nominal phrase.

Personal pronouns {| class"wikitable"|+ Personal Pronouns

! ! 1st sg! 2nd sg! colspan="3" | 3rd sg! 1st pl! 2nd pl! 3rd pl! Nominative' >' >! Accusative' >' >! Dative' >' >! Genitive' >' >

Possessive pronouns

The possessive pronouns are used like adjectives and hence take on adjective endings following the normal rules.


The inflected forms of the article depend on the number, the case and the gender of the corresponding noun. The definite article has the same plural forms for all three genders.Definite article (strong){| class="wikitable"! Case! Masculine! Neuter! Feminine! Plural! Nominative' / '! Accusative' / '! Dative ! Genitive ! Instrumental|||The instrumental case, only existing in the neuter singular, is used only with prepositions: ', ', etc. In all the other genders and in the plural it is substituted with the dative: ', ', .


Middle High German nouns were declined according to four cases (nominative, genitive, dative, accusative), two numbers (singular and plural) and three genders (masculine, feminine and neuter), much like Modern High German, though there are several important differences.

Strong nouns

{| class="wikitable"! rowspan="2" |! colspan="2" | day m.! colspan="2" | time f.! colspan="2" | word n.! Singular! Plural! Singular! Plural! Singular! Plural! Nominative' >'' >'' >'! Genitive' >'' >'' >'! Dative' >'' >'' >'! Accusative' >'' >'' >'

Weak nouns

{| class="wikitable"! rowspan="2" |! colspan="2" | (male) cousin m.! colspan="2" | tongue f.! colspan="2" | heart n.! Singular! Plural! Singular! Plural! Singular! Plural! Nominative' >'' >'' >'! Genitive' >'' >'' >'! Dative' >'' >'' >'! Accusative' >'' >'' >'


Verbs were conjugated according to three moods (indicative, subjunctive (conjunctive) and imperative), three persons, two numbers (singular and plural) and two tenses (present tense and preterite) There was a present participle, a past participle and a verbal noun that somewhat resembles the Latin gerund, but that only existed in the genitive and dative cases.An important distinction is made between strong verbs (that exhibited ablaut) and weak verbs (that didn't).Furthermore, there were also some irregular verbs.

Strong verbs

The present tense conjugation went as follows:{| class="wikitable"! rowspan="2" |! colspan="2" | to take! Indicative! Subjunctive! 1. sg.' >'! 2. sg.' >'! 3. sg.' >'! 1. pl.' >'! 2. pl.' >'! 3. pl.' >'
  • Imperative: ', '
  • Present participle:
  • Infinitive:
  • Verbal noun: genitive: ', dative: '
The bold vowels demonstrate umlaut; the vowels in brackets were dropped in rapid speech.The preterite conjugation went as follows:{| class="wikitable"! rowspan="2" |! colspan="2" | to have taken! Indicative! Subjunctive! 1. sg.' >'! 2. sg.' >'! 3. sg.' >'! 1. pl.' >'! 2. pl.' >'! 3. pl.' >'
  • Past participle:

Weak verbs

The present tense conjugation went as follows:{| class="wikitable"! rowspan="2" |! colspan="2" | to seek! Indicative! Subjunctive! 1. sg.' >'! 2. sg.' >'! 3. sg.' >'! 1. pl.' >'! 2. pl.' >'! 3. pl.' >'
  • Imperative: ', '
  • Present participle:
  • Infinitive:
  • Verbal noun: genitive: ', dative: '
The vowels in brackets were dropped in rapid speech.The preterite conjugation went as follows:{| class="wikitable"! rowspan="2" |! colspan="2" | to have sought! Indicative! Subjunctive! 1. sg.' >'! 2. sg.' >'! 3. sg.' >'! 1. pl.' >'! 2. pl.' >'! 3. pl.' >'
  • Past participle:


{{expand section | what is perhaps a foremost reader interest, the characteristic vocabulary of this period in the language, where material can be gathered from other sections, and added, to cover words that "passed away" in this period, words that are essentially unchanges, words that are so changed as to be unrecognisable, etc. | small = no|date=April 2017}}

Sample texts


(File:Hartmann von Aue's Iwein, Manuscript B, fol. 1r.jpg|thumb|Manuscript B of Hartmann von Aue's Iwein (Gießen, UB, Hs. 97), folio 1r)The text is the opening of Hartmann von Aue's Iwein ({{circa|1200}}){| cellpadding="12" !Middle High German{{sfn|Edwards|2007|p=2}} !! !!English translation|Swer an rehte güetewendet sîn gemüete,dem volget sælde und êre.des gît gewisse lêrekünec Artûs der guote,der mit rîters muotenâch lobe kunde strî hât bî sînen zîtengelebet alsô schônedaz er der êren krônedô truoc und noch sîn name treit.des habent die wârheitsîne lantliute:sî jehent er lebe noch hiute:er hât den lop erworben,ist im der lîp erstorben,sô lebet doch iemer sîn ist lasterlîcher schameiemer vil gar erwert,der noch nâch sînem site vert.|[1][5][10][15][20]|Whoever to true goodnessTurns his mindHe will meet with fortune and honour.We are taught this by the example ofGood King Arthurwho with knightly spiritknew how to strive for praise.In his dayHe lived so wellThat he wore the crown of honourAnd his name still does so.The truth of this is knownTo his countrymen:They affirm that he still lives today:He won such fame thatAlthough his body diedHis name lives on.Of sinful shameHe will forever be freeWho follows his example.Commentary: This text shows many typical features of Middle High German poetic language. Most Middle High German words survive into modern German in some form or other: this passage contains only one word (' 'say' 14) which has since disappeared from the language. But many words have changed their meaning substantially. ' (6) means 'state of mind', where modern German ' means courage. ' (3) can be translated with 'honour', but is quite a different concept of honour from modern German ; the medieval term focusses on reputation and the respect accorded to status in society.{{sfn|Lexer|1999}}


(File:Nibelungenlied manuscript-c f1r.jpg|thumb|Manuscript C of the , fol.1r)The text is the opening strophe of the ({{circa|1204}}).Middle High German{{sfn|Bartsch|De Boor|1998}}Uns ist in alten mæren    wunders vil geseitvon helden lobebæren,    von grôzer arebeit,von freuden, hôchgezîten,    von weinen und von klagen,von küener recken strîten    muget ir nu wunder hÅ“ren sagen.Modern German translation{{sfn|Brackert|1970}}In alten Erzählungen wird uns viel Wunderbares berichtetvon ruhmreichen Helden, von hartem Streit,von glücklichen Tagen und Festen, von Schmerz und Klage:vom Kampf tapferer Recken: Davon könnt auch Ihr nun Wunderbares berichten hören.English translation{{sfn|Edwards|2010}}In ancient tales many marvels are told usof renowned heroes, of great hardshipof joys, festivities, of weeping and lamentingof bold warriors' battles — now you may hear such marvels told!Commentary: All the MHG words are recognizable from Modern German, though ' ("tale") and ' ("warrior") are archaic and ' ("praiseworthy") has given way to '. Words which have changed in meaning include ', which means "strife" or "hardship" in MHG, but now means "work", and ' ("festivity") which now, as , has the narrower meaning of "wedding".{{sfn|Lexer|1999}}


The text is from the opening of Hartmann von Aue's Erec ({{circa|1180–1190}}). The manuscript (the Ambraser Heldenbuch) dates from 1516, over three centuries after the composition of the poem.{| cellpadding="12" ! !!Original manuscript{{sfn|Edrich|ps=. The text from the Ambraser Heldenbuch, 1516}} !!Edited text{{sfn|Leitzmann|1939|ps=. Standardised classical MHG.}} !!English translation{{sfn|Edwards|2014|p=5}}|5101520|nu riten ſÿ vnlange friſtnebeneinander baideEe daz ſy über die haÿdeverre jn allen gahenzureÿten ſahenein Ritter ſelb drittenVor ein Gezwerg da einmittenein Jŭnckfrawen gemaÿtſchon vnd wolgeklaitvnd wundert die kuniginwer der Ritter mo{{sup|a}}chte ſeinEr was ze harnaſch wolals ein gu{{sup|o}}t knecht ſolEregk der iunge manſein frawen fragen beganob ers erfarn ſolte|nû riten si unlange vristneben einander beide,ê daz si über die heideverre in allen gâhenzuo rîten sâheneinen ritter selbedritten,vor ein getwerc, dâ enmitteneine juncvorouwen gemeit,schœne unde wol gekleit.nû wunderte die künegînwer der ritter möhte sî was ze harnasche wol,als ein guot kneht sol.Êrec der junge mansîn vrouwen vrâgen beganob erz ervarn solde. |Now they had not been riding togetherwith one another very longwhen they saw, riding across the heathfrom afar, in all haste,towards them,a knight and two others with him —in front of him a dwarf, and between the two therea comely damsel,fair and well clad,and the Queen wonderedwho this knight might be.He was well armed,as a good knight ought to be.Young Erec asked his ladyif he should find out the knight's identity.


The following are some of the main authors and works of MHG literature:{{div col|colwidth=22em}} {{div col end}}

See also

{{div col|colwidth=22em}} {{div col end}}




  • BOOK, harv, Brockhaus, Wiebke, Final Devoicing in the Phonology of German, De Gruyter, 1995, Tübingen, 9783484303362,
  • BOOK, harv, Keller, R.E., The German Language, Faber and Faber, 1979, London, 0-571-11159-9,
  • BOOK, harv, Lexer, Matthias, Mittelhochdeutsches Taschenwörterbuch, 38, S. Hirzel Verlag, 1999, Stuttgart,weblink 5 May 2017, 978-3777604930,
  • ENCYCLOPEDIA, harv, Lindgren, Kai B., Althaus HP, Henne H, Wiegand HE, Lexikon der Germanistischen Linguistik, Mittelhochdeutsch, 1980, 2, Niemeyer, III, Tübingen, 3-484-10391-4, 580-584,
  • BOOK, harv, Paul, Hermann, Hermann Paul, Wiehl, Peter & Grosse, Sigfried, 1989, Mittelhochdeutsche Grammatik, 23rd, Tübingen, Niemeyer, 3484102330,
  • BOOK, harv, Paul, Hermann, Hermann Paul, Thomas Klein, Hans-Joachim Solms & Klaus-Peter Wegera, 2007, Mittelhochdeutsche Grammatik, 25th, Tübingen, Niemeyer, 978-3484640344,
  • ENCYCLOPEDIA, harv, Rautenberg, Ursula, Besch W, Reichmann O, Sonderegger S, Sprachgeschichte, Soziokulturelle Voraussetzung und Sprachraum des Mittelhochdeutschen, 1985, Walter De Gruyter, Berlin, New York, 2.2, 1120–29, 3-11-009590-4,
  • ENCYCLOPEDIA, harv, Roelcke, Thorsten, Besch W, Betten A, Reichmann O, Sonderegger S, Sprachgeschichte, Die Periodisierung der deutschen Sprachgeschichte, 1998, 2nd, Walter De Gruyter, Berlin, New York, 2.1, 798–815, 3-11-011257-4,weblink
  • BOOK, harv, Waterman, John T., A History of the German Language, University of Washington Press, 1976, Revised, 0-295-73807-3, registration,weblink
  • BOOK, harv, C. J., Wells, German: A Linguistic History to 1945, Oxford University Press, 1987, 0-19-815809-2,


  • BOOK, harv, Bartsch, Karl, De Boor, Helmut, Das Nibelungenlied, 22, F.A. Brockhaus, 1988, Mannheim, 3-7653-0373-9,
  • BOOK, harv, Brackert, Helmut, Das Nibelungenlied. Mittelhochdeutscher Text und Ãœbertragung, Fischer, 1970, Frankfurt-am-Main, 3436013137,
  • WEB, harv, Edrich, Brigitte, Hartmann von Aue: Erec, Handschrift A, 2014, Hartmann von Aue Portal,weblink 17 February 2018,
  • BOOK, harv, Edwards, Cyril, Hartmann von Aue. Erec, Arthurian Archives. German Romance, V, D.S.Brewer, 2014, Cambridge, 978-1-84384-378-8,
  • BOOK, harv, Edwards, Cyril, Hartmann von Aue. Iwein or the Knight with the Lion, Arthurian Romances, III, D.S.Brewer, 2007, Cambridge, 978-0-19-923854-5,
  • BOOK, harv, Edwards, Cyril, The Nibelungenlied, Oxford World's Classics, Oxford University Press, 2010, Oxford, 978-1-84384-084-8,
  • BOOK, harv, Leitzmann, Albert, Erec, Altdeutsche Textbibliothek, 19, 6th, Niemeyer, 1985, Tübingen, 3-484-20139-8,

Further reading

  • Jones, Howard; Jones, Martin H. (2019). The Oxford Guide to Middle High German, Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press. {{ISBN|9780199654611}}.
  • Walshe, M.O'C. (1974). A Middle High German Reader: With Grammar, Notes and Glossary, Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press. {{ISBN|0198720823}}.
  • Wright, Joseph & Walshe, M.O'C. (1955). Middle High German Primer, 5th edn., Oxford UK: Oxford University Press. The foregoing link is to a TIFF and PNG format. See also the Germanic Lexicon Project's edition, which is in HTML as well as the preceding formats.

External links

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